A Pastor’s Response To Suicide

suicide blogThe death of a loved one is always hard to process. And death via suicide compounds the heart ache a hundredfold. As Christian Counselor David Powlison says, “Suicide brings suffering and difficulty into the lives of everyone who is touched by it.”

I can still remember the first time I encountered the suicide of a family friend. I handed my mom the phone and then sat down next to her. Over the next hour or so, my mom’s friend recounted how she had come home and found her dead child. The reality that someone I knew had taken their own life filled my heart tension, sadness, and hopelessness. As the news began to settle, a whole host of questions started to pop up in my mind such as: “Is suicide the unforgivable sin; who’s at fault; and what do we do?”

While the Scriptures do not directly answer why our loved one died, they do teach us how to handle the tragedy of suicide. The following are five biblical truths that should inform our view of suicide:

1. It is Good To Grieve

When Jesus learned that Lazarus was dead, he wept. Jesus cried for his friend (Luke 11:35). When our friends, classmates, and children take their own lives, we should grieve for them. We should grieve for the life that has been lost. All death is grievous; all death is the result of the fall. All death screams that the world is broken and deformed. All death especially of that which takes a life prematurely should be mourned (Rom. 12:15). Those who love the Lord will mourn with those who mourn.

2. There Is Hope For Sinners

Although suicide should be grieved, it should not be excused or honored. Suicide is a sin. The taking a life, even the taking of one’s own life is sinful. It is wrong because all men and women are created in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). Men and women are designed to glorify God. If a person commits suicide, he fights against God design for his life. He “essentially blames God for difficult circumstances while simultaneously failing to trust him for deliverance” (p. 115). The Scriptures always present suicide as sinful and shameful (I Sam 31:4-5; Matt 27:5). The taking of one’s own life is an attack against God.

For this reason, we should always take suicide seriously. Those who struggle with suicide are wrestling against God.  We must warn them that their lives and very souls are in jeopardy. We must call them to examine their faith for their very thoughts may be evidence that they are unredeemed.

But suicide is not unforgivable. Suicide does not equal being lost. Nor does it preclude salvation. It is not the unpardonable sin (Matt 12:30-32). The hymn writer, William Cooper who penned “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” attempted suicide. Moreover, King David and Moses both committed murder and were forgiven by God. There is no biblical reason to assume that all those who commit suicide and/or murder automatically go to hell. God offers eternal life to all who repent and believe. Not even suicide can separate a believer from the powerful love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).

So is our loved one in heaven? If they had faith in Christ, then yes. However, only God can see into people’s hearts. He makes the final decision according to his love, mercy, and justice. We must place our hope and trust in him.

3. God Judges People For Their Sins

Often when a suicide occurs, the family and friends left behind begin to assume responsibility for the person’s death. We accuse ourselves by asking, “Why didn’t we see the warning signs; why we didn’t we keep this from happening; how did we miss this?” And while it’s possible that we did things that hurt our friend, child or spouse, we did not cause the suicide. Numerous people have had inattentive friends, mean parents, and argumentative spouses. Most people don’t kill themselves.

Ultimately, the person who commits suicide chose to take their life. Their decision even if impaired by drugs, alcohol, or medication was their decision. We are not responsible for their sin. God never hold us accountable for the actions of another. In Romans 2:6, we read that God will “render to each person according to his deeds.” And Ezekiel 18:20 makes this point crystal clear:

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

We are not judged for our loved one’s sin.

4. We Are Finite

We like answers. We like to be able to explain everything we see and encounter.  When we are hit with the news of a suicide, we often set off in desperate quest to explain why. We want to know why our brother, son, or spouse thought suicide was the best option. But we can’t know these things with certainty. We can’t perfectly retrace our beloved’s last steps and see into their mind. We can’t make sense of suicide. As David Powlison writes,

You will never have an answer that ties up all the loose ends.

We read in Deuteronomy 29:29 that, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Friends, we will never know the secret things. We will never ultimately know why. And that’s ok. Our hope is not tied to the knowledge of everything. Our hope is tied to the all-powerful, loving, good God who cares for us. He knows everything. We must trust him for he alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68-69).

5. Jesus Saves

The ultimate hope for all touched by the suffering and difficulties of suicide is Jesus. Though we do not know why our loved one committed suicide, we know that God is all loving, merciful, and compassionate. Regardless of how we feel, his mercies will be new every morning (Lam 3:22-23). He will hear us when we call (Psalm 86:7). And, he will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). As we deepen our trust in God, we will find hope and blessing.

Admittedly, the tears and heart ache will never fully go away in this life. But they will not last forever. Christ will return one day soon and wipe away every tear and sorrow. And even if our loved one is not in heaven on that day, we will be with Jesus. We will be with God. He will more than make up for all of our suffering. As Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Friends, we are going to glory! Trust in God.

 

If your are looking for more resources on suicide, I encourage you to listen to Jim Newheiser talk on the subject,  COUNSELING AFTER A SUICIDE or to grab a copy of David Powlison’s little book, Grieving A Suicide: Help for the Aftershock

 

Caring For Those In Crisis: A Pastor’s Response To Zack’s Death

Caring for those in CrisisThis past Friday, the Mayberry folksiness of Eastman was jolted by the depths of evil. The story of how three-year-old Zack was cruelly beaten to death has brought sadness to most every home in the area. And now as his family and the community grapple with the tragic death of this beloved toddler, the questions of “Why,” “How,” and “What now” begin to fill our brains. We want to know, “Where was God” on Friday, March 14, 2014.

How to Care For the Community

God was sitting on his throne in heaven (Col 3:1). He was not caught off guard. Nor was he in heaven wishing he could intervene but lacking the power to act. Our God had the power to stop little Zack’s death. He also had the power to save my son from death last summer. But he chose not to appear either on March 14, 2014 or on July 16, 2013. Although none of us fully sees into the mind of God, the Bible does reveal why Jesus delays his return and allows evil to go on unchecked in many forms.  

In 2 Peter 3:9-10, we read that, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Jesus hasn’t come again because he wants to save sinners. When Jesus returns to earth, he will descend with a flaming sword to judge the wicked. Once he breaks through the clouds, sinners will have no hope of salvation. Consequently, God waits not because he has forgotten justice, not because he powerless to stop evil, and not because he cares little about human suffering. He waits so that he can extend grace and salvation to the lost.

As believers, we should long for Jesus to return, praying for him to come quickly and end the violent suffering that Zack and many others have experienced. On that glorious day, babies will no longer die; old men will not tire (Isaiah 65:20). Until then, let’s redeem these evil days by proclaiming the gospel to a lost and dying world. When Jesus was asked in Luke 13 about why certain men suffered a violent death, he responded by calling men and women to repent. When our community asks about this tragedy, let’s share the gospel. Christ is coming back! “The day of the Lord will come like thief and the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 2:10).

How to Care For the Family

               I confess that I have no idea what Zack’s family is experiencing.  But the scriptures do provide Christians with a framework for ministering to those who are suffering. Below are nine principles to follow as we seek to minister to broken hearted,    

  1. Be with those suffering. The first step towards ministering to those who are grieving is to grieve (Rom. 12:15). Jesus wept when he went to see Lazarus (John 11:35). Job’s friends understood this principle as well, initially sitting with Job in silence for seven days because they “saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13).  
  2. Meet physical needs. The best way to demonstrate our love of God of others is to practically minister to those in crisis (Matt. 4:10; James 2:18).      
  3. Don’t assume you know why a person or family is suffering. I do not know specifically why I or others suffer. And quite frankly, no human being can know “why” apart from divine revelation. To presume to know the divine reasoning for why someone suffers and why someone else rejoices is the height of human arrogance. By appointing yourself god, you will only bring despair and pain to those who are hurting. God’s thoughts are far higher and better than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Resist the temptation that overcame the disciples in John 9 and Job’s friends.
  4. Do not encourage sin. In many physiological circles people are told to get angry with God when they suffer. However in scripture, we are told to respond with faith and trust (Proverbs 3:5). We should hate all human sin and mourn the fallen pains of nature. But we should not encourage those who are suffering to blame God as Job’s wife did. Rather, we should encourage them to be like Job and not “sin or charge God with wrong doing” (Job 1:22).  
  5. Point the broken hearted to the God who comforts the weak. Romans 8:28-39 is by far one of the best passages for developing a theology of suffering. But I would not open to Romans initially.  Begin with God’s goodness. Offer the hurting expressions for their grief and reminders of hope by turning to Psalm 23, or Lamentations 3:1-26, or Psalm 34. Remind them that God is here and will care for his children.
  6. Encourage them with the truth that babies and innocent children are taken to heaven at death. David was able to stop grieving for his dead son because he knew his son was in paradise (2 Sam. 12:23; I Kings 14:12-13).
  7. Speak truth in love, seeking to edify. Everything we post on Facebook or tweet should be done to encourage and help the family, keeping their situation in mind. Refrain from gossip and idle chatter (Eph. 4:29).
  8. Continue loving them in the days ahead. As Christians, we should respond to crisis, but ministry continues for a lifetime (I Peter 4:10-11).
  9. Pray for them, asking God to love them, comfort them, and meet their needs through his divine power (Col. 1:11).